Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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If You Go Down To The Woods Today

And I’m back! After my Nood experience (let’s NOT relive that again), I had a few pig-out sessions and a night out on the town drinking cocktails to make up for losing several days’ worth of calories. Then I upped and left for London for a couple weeks, hence, you have been subjected to my juice cleanse post for a while- sorry!

I don’t think I have ever done a full-scale post on drinking, mostly because I have the dreaded Asian flush which strikes after 1 drink and therefore have a pathetic tolerance towards alcohol, but I make an exception for this post on The Woods. This relatively new bar in Central can be found off Hollywood Road, down a dainty, invitingly lit flight of steps. One sleek sliding door later, and into The Woods you step- all decked out in wood and marble. The whole interior is quite striking and one certainly gets the impression of nature and foliage. I have been back a few times now, and whenever I visit, I always feel like I’m holed up in a sophisticated, yet comforting wooden barn.

A peep through the woods

A peep through the woods

The bar display

The bar display

The Woods opened back in July and is the brainchild of the three Chow sisters, but the youngest, Victoria, is the lovely lady responsible for the food and drink. The cocktail bar is split into two distinct areas- the lounge and the Prix-Fixe Bar, which seats eight and needs prior booking. The interesting concept behind The Woods, is that the cocktails are themselves the culinary art, so if you’re in search of a pint of beer, don’t go here!

The photos that I have for this post were from back in August(!), so some of the seasonal cocktails may no longer be there, and the Prix-Fixe menu I would think is changing very very soon, but I’m sure that you will find a drink that tickles your fancy. The words market-fresh, seasonal and artisanal sum up the core principles of The Woods.

From the a la carte, I tried The Caprese ($120), which was basically a salad in a glass. As someone who can’t take the taste of strong booze, this was rather perfect- light on the Tito’s Vodka, and heavier on the fresh tomato water. I love sour and salty things, and the combination of aged balsamic vinegar with the vodka, tomato water, Himalayan pink salt and black lava salt rim was highly enjoyable to the point where I was half drunk by the end of it. In addition, the cocktail itself was pretty to look at, bursting with colour from the cherry tomatoes.

The Caprese

The Caprese

The Caprese The Caprese

I took a sip of someone’s Watermelon Cilantro, (that’s coriander for the Brits among us), and was pleasantly surprised my palate wasn’t assailed by the cilantro flavour, which I’m not normally a fan of.

Watermelon Cilantro

Watermelon Cilantro

The biggest surprise for me was their Oak Whiskey Sour, which was finely balanced and had a lovely hint of a smokey flavour. This was a surprising drink because I usually really dislike whiskey, (I can trace this dislike back to uni days of cheap whiskey shots and feeling very unwell afterwards), and not only did I think it was tasty, but I think I might have been converted! But only at The Woods will I drink this, I will proceed with caution at all other, as yet untested establishments.

Oak Whiskey Sour

Oak Whiskey Sour

So what about the Prix-Fixe menu? For hardcore drinkers who like arty drinks and enjoy 4 courses of alcohol with very small nibbles. People with Asian flush, will start to feel very drunk 1 course in- yep, yours truly was pretty merry at the end and needed to go to Tsui Wah for noodles; no judgement please.

The Prix-Fixe menu is creative, interesting and definitely unique in Hong Kong. For $688 per person for 4 courses, (essentially 4 drinks), this may be a little pricey, and I for one, prefer the a la carte, but that’s because I normally can’t take 4 drinks in a row anyway!

The menu we had started with the Basil Smash (Sipsmith Gin and Thai and Sweet Basils), which was fun as we got to smash a hollowed ice sphere with a little hammer to release the cocktail. This was served with watermelon and feta cheese on the side. Next, we had the Bacon Bourbon Luge for mains. This was STRONG. I’m not a bourbon drinker, and I admit, I was way more interested in the accompanying roasted bone marrow (delicious by the way). However, this bacon infused bourbon was smooth and I like the savoury taste. I completely failed to use the bone marrow as a luge to pour the cocktail in my mouth as I was starting to feel tipsy at this point!

Basil Smash

Basil Smash

Bacon Bourbon Luge

Bacon Bourbon Luge

For dessert there was the Absinthe Floss. This was messy. Instead of the traditional absinthe served poured over a sugar cube, The Woods replaced the cube with candy floss. This was far too strong for me. To end, our Digestif was a Tanqueray Gin and Jasmine tea infusion with lemongrass, galangal and lemon peel. Like a hot toddy, this was warming but not aromatic enough for me and the gin was overpowering. Not sure if this combination really works in its favour.

Absinthe Floss

Absinthe Floss

Tea Infusion

Tea Infusion

Tea Infusion

Before I forget, we also tried their fries from the a la carte nibbles section. One word- addictive.

The Woods' Fries

The Woods’ Fries

I’m happy to see a concept cocktail bar like The Woods spring up in Hong Kong, and it’s refreshing to have a place to go for consistently well-made drinks. I didn’t mention mocktails, but one of my favourites is the Virgin Galangal Mojito which is delicious. And now that I’m a whiskey sour convert and a few friends have also given it their nod of approval, I think The Woods will be a regular haunt (alongside The Envoy, which is another go-to), for my friends and I, who aren’t hardcore liquor-lovers but who definitely appreciate the delicate touch with cocktails.

Virgin Galangal Mojito

Virgin Galangal Mojito

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 for decor, ambience, good mocktails, their fries and that whiskey sour

The Woods, L/G, 17 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong Tel: +852 2522 0281 http://www.thewoods.hk

The Prixe-Fixe tasting was by invitiation. Many thanks to The Woods for a fun evening!

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Checking Out Check-In Taipei

Hollywood Road is getting a bit of a face-lift with all these new establishments and latest on the radar is contemporary Taiwanese joint Check-In Taipei, which opened a little over two months ago. When I think of Taiwanese cuisine I immediately think of you tiao (Chinese dough stick) , soya bean milk, fan tuan (sticky rice roll), sesame noodles and NIGHT MARKET FOOD- basically all the food I usually scoff my face with when I go to Taipei. But Check-In Taipei’s menu is a tad more sophisticated than that, with some of Taiwan’s classic dishes undergoing an inventive spin.

Photo courtesy of BD girl!

Photo courtesy of BD girl!

Inside Check-In Taipei’s narrow space, the decoration is relatively minimalist with clean lines, dark furniture and a long bar where you can sip on their signature cocktails and share plates with friends. There is also a takeaway window for those on the go, a great idea to retain some of the Taiwanese street food charm and makes this establishment appear more accessible to the masses.  Leung Nga Fong, whose CV boasts working at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Amber and Taiwanese ‘drink architect’ Shin Chiu, have successfully created an attractive menu and there are a few dishes which definitely capture the eye.

But, there are some buts to this tale.

When four of us paid a visit one evening, it was to celebrate a birthday, a fact that was subtly relayed when the booking was made. Not that we expected anything but possibly a little candle wedged on top on of our desserts (which actually happened, hooray!), but what I did expect, as one should from any restaurant really, is decent service, and there isn’t anything much worse than a birthday celebration marred by wearily making the same simple request over and over and over again, seeing your dessert get dropped, (more on that later) or the credit card transaction getting mixed up. Luckily the birthday girl, whose sweet nature is rarely riled up, didn’t mind too much.

Before I get caught up in my grumblings, I must say that the food itself was quite enjoyable. The menu is split into a few sections- some interesting bite-sized appetisers, vegetables, classic dishes with a twist and desserts.

Chicken and Waffles, one of their signature dishes, immediately caught our attention. The night market favourite of salty, crispy chicken that the Taiwanese do so very well, has been transformed into a fancy little thing at CIT. Mounted atop mini waffles with accompanying pineapple chutney and balsamic maple syrup, it looked delightful. The chicken was succulent, the skin crisp, but the waffle was unfortunately slightly sodden from the syrup and I didn’t detect the pineapple chutney.

Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

Next, we had the Oyster Duet- homemade oyster soup served with a crispy oyster croquette (the oysters were fried with oyster sauce, Chinese chives and onion then mixed with mashed potatoes). This again, was a unique take on the oyster pancake and I have to say I liked this dish the most. The soup was a wonderfully warm and comforting oyster version of a clam chowder, and the croquettes were fluffy and light. I also loved the presentation- the soup being served from a teapot with tea cup. How very Asian chic!Oyster Duet

Oyster Duet

Oyster Duet

We followed this up with their Gua Bao with two different fillings- braised pork belly with spicy sweet bean sauce and crunchy spiced eggplant with spicy bean paste and sweet chili mayo. The pork belly was good but to my surprise, I preferred the eggplant. It was spot on with its aromatic condiments and still firm texture.

Gua Bao- spicy eggplant

Gua Bao- spicy eggplant

Gua Bao- braised pork belly

Gua Bao- braised pork belly

It was around this point of the meal that we had begun to notice a couple of service failings, namely, a complete failure to collect any finished plates and dishes without us calling their attention, failure to then pick up the empty dishes even when pointed at, (the waitress in fact smiled sweetly several times with a little giggle and then promptly walked off!) and a bizarre aversion to filling up our glasses with water. At one point I was tempted to walk over to the bar where I could see the water jugs, and just help myself. The aversion to topping up water continued for the rest of the night; I counted that between my friend and I we had asked the manager at least 5 times and waited a good 20 minutes before any water finally arrived. The place is tiny, “I CAN SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND IT ISN’T TOWARDS THE WATER!!”, I yelled in my head at the staff. Exasperation.

Anyway, our savouries continued with the Seven Layered Rice, a prettier, compact version of the Taiwanese braised pork pork rice (滷肉飯, Lu Rou Fan) which is one of my all time favourites. Whilst the flavours were all there and the egg was nice and soft, I would have liked more sauce. It was also served in a bloody difficult receptacle- a glass cup. It was a mess. Rice bits falling everywhere on the table trying to dig down through all the layers and in order to spoon a serving on our own plates. As I had then come to expect, the rice mess was not cleaned up either when the plates were eventually cleared. (I sound like a right moaner here!)Seven-Layered Rice

Seven-Layered Rice

Seven-Layered Rice

We were most intrigued by their Ping Pong dish- four balls of purple yam with a mochi and parmesan cheese filling which are deep fried at low heat to attain a crispy outside and a chewy inside. This recreation of the traditional sweet potato balls is a great concept, and we especially liked their presentation on a ping pong bat but something was missing. The mochi was nicely chewy and the filling itself was tasty, but somehow this combination fell flat and certainly raised a few quizzical brows in the group.

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

The Fish’N’Squid Sticks with flying fish roe served with chili mayo and sweet plum sauce was strange. The consistency can only be described as squidgy and whatever the batter was sprinkled with, was too sweet to make this dish work. I also couldn’t detect the fish roe anywhere. Great chili mayo though.

Fish'N'Squid Sticks

Fish’N’Squid Sticks

Our last savoury was the Mushroom Forest and this was excellent. Four types of mushrooms, shiitake, white, portobello and reishi are sautéed in truffle cream and then for an added touch, fried mushrooms, lightly battered in potato starch are in the mix to create a nice textural contract. Best bit is the gorgeous onsen egg which bound all the flavours together wonderfully once smashed in.

Mushroom Forest

Mushroom Forest

To end, we ordered both the desserts on offer- the Taro cheesecake and the Yin Yang- marshmallow honey toast with black sesame paste. So this is a funny story…actually not that funny when it happened; the waiter, as he was just about to serve the Yin Yang toast to us, tilted the plate at such an angle to put it down that it was quite easy for all to see that this was going to be a disaster. CIT seems to choose the oddest plates to serve their food on, and toast on a flat plate, is BOUND TO SLIP OFF, especially if waiters are dashing in and out balancing stuff. And so, we see our toast promptly slide off and land face down with a loud PLOP on the dirty, rice strewn table. Mouths agape and sharp intakes of breath later, the waiter, for a nanosecond, looked like he was prepared to flip it over and serve it anyway. We sharply looked at him with a Don’t you dare! glare and thankfully he turned around and got us a fresh piece of toast. By the way, the toast was very satisfying, just be prepared to catch it in mid-air if you order it. The table, incidentally, got a perfunctory wipe later.

Yin Yang Toast

Yin Yang Toast

The taro cheesecake was dense, dense, dense. But we didn’t care as it came with a candle and our birthday girl was happy!

Birthday Taro cheesecake!

Birthday Taro cheesecake!

Taro cheesecake

Taro cheesecake

There was also a bill fiasco, but I have no strength to go into that. Suffice to say, the food just about saves this review from being a total whiny account  and whilst there are a couple of misses, I do think that the food is enjoyable and the prices reasonable. I do recommend that if you go you keep your service expectations on the low side. Let’s just hope they improve ASAP.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Check-In Taipei, 27 Hollywood Rd, Central, Tel: 2351 2622 facebook.com/ctaipei


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Putting on a Funky Shou

Fu Lu Shou- Good Fortune, Prosperity and Longevity- has been open a little over a month and I have already been three times, something of a record for me when it comes to new establishments. And all because the place is just so darn funky. Two things to mention that make this my new go-to spot for laid-back cool- a fab rooftop terrace and rather yummy cocktails. Ping Lam, the brainchild behind the Nail Library, has successfully turned her attention from beautifying hands and feet to feeding people, and its all about bringing in old skool Western Chinese from her childhood in Australia.  Their motto is “Eat. Drink. And Be Prosperous”; I can do the first two, just hoping that one day Fu Lu Shou magically makes it rain when I next visit. I wish.

Eat, Drink And Be Prosperous

Eat, Drink And Be Prosperous

Fu Lu Shou is ensconced in a rather dodgy looking old building on Hollywood Road by the escalators and takes over the space formerly occupied by TBLS. The only way to get inside is to know the door code which changes every Tuesday. The code, the well-hidden location, plus the jittery old lift, add to the Fu Lu Shou atmosphere and make you feel like you’re in on a little secret. I loved it. Once you emerge on the top floor, you are greeted by a lovely rooftop bar and small, casual indoor dining area and an open kitchen. The bar is made up entirely of mahjong tiles which I was quite fascinated by, and inside, the look is completed by their motto emblazoned on the wall.  The real beauty is the outdoor terrace which is bedecked with inviting, comfy sofas, cushioned swing seats and a huge mural of a couple of happy, old Chinese scholars and one holding a cocktail!

Merry scholars

Merry scholars

Mahjong tiled bar

Mahjong tiled bar

The first time I went it was at the kind invitation of the awesome Rach from Through the Looking Glass and a merry group of us got stuck into the inventive cocktails and mocktails which are all worth trying and utterly delish. Firm cocktail favourites from my three visits are the Joh Sun, “Good Morning Hong Kong”- a feisty concoction of lemon-flavoured vodka, lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, ginger juice, lime and chilli- it certainly woke me up after one tiring day and their Haam Ling Chut “Salty Lemon”  which is a mix of Angostura Reserva 3 Yr Old White Rum, Salted Lemon, Salted Lemon Juice, Preserved Mandarin, Mint, Fever-Tree Lemonade & Fever-Tree Tonic. As someone who really loves the classic haam ling chut from cha chaan tengs, theirs was a lively, alcoholic version that went down a little too nicely! I enjoyed their mocktails too; all refreshing and fruity, especially their Yum Cha made with Chinese tea, homemade red date tea, lemon juice, passionfruit and elderflower syrup which is served in those gorgeous classic Chinese mugs with lids.

Yum Cha

Yum Cha

Joh Sun!

Joh Sun!

But what about the food? It’s NOT authentic first of all, but that’s the point and half the charm. It’s a cheeky and fun medley of Australian, UK and North American westernised Chinese food that owner Ping, wanted to capture and remember from her native Oz.  Ping was very quick to state that Fu Lu Shou is ‘not food-centric’ nor meant to be Michelin-star, the dishes are simply there to be enjoyed with the drinks and not to be taken seriously. In other words, chill out, pig out and smile. Ping clearly has a fab eye for detail as all the dishes came on those amazing melamine retro Chinese plates which I fondly remember eating off from as a child. The plates were shipped all the way from Paris no less- dedication!

Any food item termed ‘Big Arse’ has got to be good. By Big Arse, they are referring to the Ozzie extreme version of the siu mai and this momma was massive when it came as part of the mixed sampler plate. This tasted great, but we especially liked their prawn toast which was deliciously thick and crisp.

Mixed appetizer sample and Big Arse siu mai

Mixed appetizer sample and Big Arse siu mai

The Chicken and Sweet Corn ‘Egg Drop’ soup was soothing for the soul and was just the right consistency.

Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

We sampled a variety of mains starting with the Beef in Black Bean Sauce. The sauce was slightly too heavy and intense on the salty black bean for me and should be accompanied by some rice. The Boss’ Honey Prawns’ light, sweet batter was nicely done and the prawns plump to bite into and the Sweet and Sour Pork was also a solid dish. The real crowd pleasers were the Deep Fried Tofu in Spicy Salt which were so addictive- I couldn’t stop piling the chili salt and pepper onto my rice, and the Kung Pao Chicken which was full of flavour and kick as well. For carbs you can go for anyone of the chow meins, though we were served the vegetable version to end the savouries.

Deep Fried Tofu in Spicy Salt

Deep Fried Tofu in Spicy Salt

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Vegetable Chow Mein

Vegetable Chow Mein

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Boss' Honey Prawns

Boss’ Honey Prawns

Sweet and Sour Pork

Sweet and Sour Pork

For dessert we tucked into a properly old-skool banana split with ice-cream AND an umbrella- yummy! We also enjoyed the banana fritters and the sticky toffee apples which we dunked into ice water with glee to solidify the toffee.

Banana fritters

Banana fritters

Sticky Toffee Apple

Sticky Toffee Apple

Dunking Time

Dunking Time

Banana Split

Banana Split

If you want a fun night out with delicious drinks and a great rooftop to enjoy the HK ambience, make Fu Lu Shou a regular hang-out. It doesn’t serve authentic Chinese food, but it sure does do a brilliant take on ‘non-authentic’ Chinese grub to make bananas like me nostalgic. I do recommend booking in advance and remember to check the door code or you’ll be stuck outside on Hollywood Road.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Fu Lu Shou, 7/F, 31 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2336 8812

 https://www.facebook.com/FuLuShouHK


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I don’t think canteen food normally tastes this good…

With Hong Kong stuffed to the rafters with fine-dining restaurants it makes such a refreshing change to have a slew of casual, humble and reasonably priced eateries opening up. This city, as always, has a habit of flooding diners with restaurants of the same cuisine in a short space of time, and recently it has been French food following hot on the heels of the Spanish and Mexican invasion. But before the likes of the cosy Les Fils à Maman and Bistro du Vin, the funky La Cantoche opened its doors to the public back in July. La CantocheMy girlfriends and I first popped round soon after its opening, (yes, yes, I know I’m really behind on the posting, but better late than never! I have returned since, but have done nothing, till now,  except stare at the poor quality photos I took). I love that La Cantoche (‘The Canteen’ in French), is tucked away off Hollywood Road and if you spot the small sign on the corner of the side street, it points you in the right direction. The glass entrance is bright and cheerful and the eye is drawn to the foosball table and the colourful, graffitied, white-washed brick wall inside.

Foosball table!

Foosball table!

I arrived early and was greeted by an ebullient David Sung, the French-born owner, who gave me a huge smile and welcomed me like a long-lost friend. His equally buoyant staff ushered me upstairs and settled me at a table in front of a wall projection of an awesome, old-school kung-fu film which I gazed at, mesmerized, whilst waiting for the girls. When I pried my eyes away, (I’m easily distracted by TV, am such a child), I managed to drink in the rest of the decor and liked what I saw. The interior is very minimalistic, with a mix of concrete and white brick walls, cement flooring and almost playground-like primary-coloured chairs. It has a hip, industrial feel but it doesn’t try too hard to be achingly cool.

Loved the decor

Loved the decor

Our waiter was brilliant. Introductions were made, water provided and the menu explained. David later came up and took time to tell us a bit of his background. The menu is simple and pretty much a hark back to his childhood, with French, homey comfort food a mainstay. His mother grew up in Vietnam, which explains the Vietnamese influence in the appetisers and salads. A lot of the recipes are his mum’s and the joy on David’s face as he talks about his dishes is quite infectious.

We started with the Boulettes Viet, two herb-infused meatballs skewered and balanced over a salad of cabbage and carrots dressed lightly with nuoc nam and lemongrass. The meatballs were a tad overdone, their bottoms overly scorched, but I could taste the potential within and would definitely give them another go and hope that they are less eagerly cooked. The salad was lovely though and saved the dish.

Boulettes Viet

Boulettes Viet

The Rice Krispies de la Cantoche were great and warrant a bit of fun DIY- wrapping the puffed up rice and Vietnamese-spiced minced pork combo into a lettuce leaf before taking a big flavoursome bite.

Rice Krispies de la Cantoche

Rice Krispies de la Cantoche

The Goat’s cheese spring rolls, (Nems au Chèvre) were incredible. I loooveee goat’s cheese, and love it even more when its in all its gooey, melty glory, which was the case with these golden delights.

Nems au Chèvre

Nems au Chèvre

The mains selection is concise with seven hearty dishes to mull over. All come with a side dish of your choice- including potatoes three ways, ratatouille and buttered macaroni. I have a massive weakness for mashed potato, and David was not kidding when he said I would want to cry with joy after one mouthful of his creamy Purée maison. It was seriously potato heaven. My girlfriend was obsessed with the pommes noisettes, (something I’ve not had in many years since my less than enjoyable French exchange when I was 13 years old), which are these glorious bite-sized, crispy golden potato balls hiding mashed potato inside. Our waiter was starting to think we had a carbohydrate problem as we also ordered the frites. They were very helpful as well, as we were able to get half portions of our potatoes to make room for some peas and carrots and the ratatouille.

Pommes noisette

Pommes noisette

Pommes frites

Pommes frites

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Anyway, back to mains, and I ordered the Cordon bleu, a beautiful breaded, then fried cutlet of tender chicken breast rolled around ham and soft cheese. For me, this was the most outstanding dish, made more mouth-watering by my generous slathering of mash. The roast chicken (which I had the second time I went) gets my vote for second best dish followed by the Poisson Papillote, (fish wrapped in foil), which my friend had on our first visit. As we unwrapped the foil, a billow of steam was released, revealing the delicately textured fish with a lovely buttery sheen from basting in its own juices.

Cordon Bleu

Cordon Bleu

Poisson papillotte

Poisson papillote

The desserts are definitely worth attacking. I’m pretty much in love with their M&M nougat ice-cream which was absolutely divine. It’s playful presentation reflected the essence of La Cantoche, and us girls couldn’t help but ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ over every spoonful. We were also in raptures over the crème au chocolat which would make many a chocolate addict happy. At this point, David then popped up with a slice of his ridiculously yummy chocolate cake sitting in custard. If you want to win over girls’ hearts, this is the way to do it.

M&M nougat ice-cream

M&M nougat ice-cream

Chocolate cake!!

Chocolate cake!!

OOooooohhh Chocolate cake!

OOooooohhh Chocolate cake!

We were utterly replete with sugar. With smiles on our faces from the chocolate high, we got ready to settle the bill and give a good tip (there’s no service charge, so it’s up to you, but they deserve it!), but not before David produced 3 shot glasses of vodka, toasted our health and gave thanks for visiting La Cantoche. The best bit about the shots? The naughty glasses reveal a naked lady at the bottom when you’ve downed your drink. Ooh la la!

Waiting for the naked lady while David pours us vodka

Waiting for the naked lady while David pours us vodka

I love this place. It’s fab to have a laid-back spot to hang out and enjoy simple, good food with your mates. Even though I’m not French, I can pretend to be one for a few hours and hop over there for a slice of ‘home’.

They definitely deserve a tip!

They definitely deserve a tip!

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

$$-$$$$$$$$$$

La Cantoche, 5 Wa Lane, Sheung Wan, 2426 0880. Mon-Sat midday-3pm & 7pm-10.30pm. Closed Sun.


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I got no Blues at this Butcher

It’s an utter meat-fest in Hong Kong right now. With Harlan’s Striphouse, Edo & Bibo and now Blue Butcher, joining the plethora of steakhouses, such as Bistecca, Morton’s , Ruth’s Chris, to name a few, it’s a quagmire for the average diner to choose where to go to sink their chops into a hunk of flesh. I’m not a steak addict. I’m a total carnivore however, but my meats of choice are pork and lamb. For me, as long as my steak is medium, has enough burnt bits round the edges, has some fat and is still juicy, I’m a happy girl. I’ll be the first to confess that I’m not the most ‘discerning’ when it comes to steak!

Blue Butcher interested me a great deal because it presents itself as a ‘meat specialist’, not a steakhouse, which is an attractive concept. Portions are generous and sharing, family-style is encouraged.This New York style restaurant is the only one with a walk-in dry-aging room, which is carefully positioned at the front of the dining area like a piece of modern art-work for diners to gawk at. All produce and herbs are from local organic farms and the meat is meticulously chosen from a variety of sources from around the world.I managed to squeeze in a hearty meal at Blue Butcher before its official opening. Upon rocking up, I noticed that it doesn’t have a sign yet, so if it wasn’t for my friend, I would have blithely walked past its shady entrance. Another ‘downside’ for the lazy Hong Konger is its location. It’s on Hollywood Road, between The Press Room and Classified, so you’ll have to pound the pavements to earn your meal, unless you want to incur the wrath of taxi drivers by asking to be taken from the bottom of the escalators. The ground-floor is a tiny space for a tiny bar; then a slightly dangerous staircase leads you to the main floor, opening up to display an open kitchen and hefty, farmhouse-style wooden tables.Head Chef Danny Chaney and his team, (who all sport cool hairstyles and look like they’ve leapt from the pages of a Rock ‘n’ Roll magazine), are a flurry of activity in the kitchen and it’s clear they all get on like a house on fire and are passionate about the dishes. Chef Danny is vibrant and personable, (I will be eternally grateful to him giving me one out of the last eight mini-sliders at the opening party!), and judging from his creative menu, is a man who likes to make an impression.

As a ‘meat-specialist’, I was extremely impressed by the appetisers or ‘small plates to share’. All too often, the major steakhouses wow with their meats but don’t quite maintain their standard with their starters. I adored the pigs head terrine, which I saw, with interest, was served with pickled onions and a smudge of mustard. The mustard really made all the difference to the chunky meaty flavour and I forwent the toast, and ate the terrine with only the mustard! The Spanish ham and egg with asparagus and mushrooms, was equally outstanding. My friends and I couldn’t get enough of the ham and sous-vide egg combination and used up all the bread, scooping out the leftovers. The bone marrow served with coarse salt flakes was delightfully rich, but sadly, the marrow itself was on the small side, and in seconds, it was all gone.We were a big group, so ordering almost everything seemed to be the thing to do. Unfortunately for me, we didn’t order the lamb (I’ll have to go back for that), but one of the dishes was the US Kurobota Pig Belly & Cheek, Lentils and Granny Smith Apple Slaw. This, together with the Dutch Veal Cheek & Sweetbreads with Truffled Orzo and Herb Salad, were the most dazzling dishes of the night.

The pig belly and all its fatty goodness was astonishingly tender and melted in the mouth. The tartness of the apple slaw and the lentil stew were a good, contrasting accompaniment to the richness of the pork.My palate couldn’t decide which it enjoyed more: the firmness of the sweetbreads giving way to a wonderful silky taste, coupled with the tender veal cheeks or the fantastic truffled orzo, which was sublimely creamy but surprisingly not that heavy. (I went back to Blue Butcher a second time and I asked for, and was granted, a plate of the orzo on its own- nom nom nom).The Slow-cooked maple leaf duck breast was well prepared, and although tasty, in comparison to the rest, it wasn’t a standout dish. We also tried the Line Caught Sea Bass with clams, shrimp and broth which was excellent and showed off Chef Danny’s competence with seafood as well as meat.The Australian Mann River Farm Wagyu bone in Rib Eye was a lovely hunk of juicy, fatty beef, cooked to a perfect medium. As I said before, if it’s cooked the way I like it, I have no complaints, and the meat was succulent.On my second visit, we ordered the free-range charred French chicken, which arrived in a hot pan with its juices soaked up by the carrots and onions. The simplicity of the preparation makes this a marvellous dish, with no attempts to make it fancier.  The chicken was meaty and moist, and would definitely go well with a hunk of bread to soak up the remaining juices and make a mini sandwich!Out of the five desserts on offer, we had three: the Granny Smith apple crumble with port and walnut ice-cream, the Eton Mess with basil sorbet and the maple tart with lemon whipped cream. The port and walnut ice-cream was an applaudable combination and whilst I enjoyed the crumble, I prefer my apple crumbles with chunks rather than slices of apple (but perhaps that’s the Brit in me). The Eton Mess a little messy in terms of flavours. The basil sorbet completely overwhelmed the delicate meringue and cream and both would be better served individually. The maple tart got my seal of approval and it was mostly down to the lemon whipped cream which paired wonderfully with the sticky sweetness of the tart.For a newly opened establishment, Blue Butcher has made an admirable first impression on people’s palates. It’s hip and fun, and there are dishes which will ensure that it has a regular and loyal following. It’s on the pricier side, but for whacking big portions, perhaps you’ll think the food is worth its weight in pure protein. At the moment, I’m unsure what will be their ‘signature’ dishes, but if they keep the standard up, it could well end up being more than half the menu! Make sure you try their cocktails, I hear they’re a blast.

We all got a goodie bag at the opening: pretty cute, especially the world’s smallest tin of sea salt. 

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

Blue Butcher, 108 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2613 9286

$$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$ (Including drinks)

Interior shot of Blue Butcher courtesy of internet


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208..not so great

Hype sometimes works in your favour, but for 208 Duocento Otto, it definitely has not.

Opened by Yenn Wong of JIA Boutique Hotels (one of which is by 208 on Hollywood Road), Chef Vinny Lauria promises New York style Italian food, specialising in Neopolitan-style pizzas.

D and I went lastnight and when the taxi pulled up in front, I saw a building that looks a bit like a solid bar of dark chocolate..so far, so intriguing. Walking past the the outdoor seating area and up the steps into the ground floor bar, you first get the impression that you’re entering a gentleman’s club from the Tudor/Renaissance period with all the dark browns encapsulating the interior: wooden panelling on the ceilings, dark wood flooring, seating, shelving behind the bar.

Then, I noticed the walls. Floor to ceiling, downstairs, upstairs and in the toilets, it seemed like the whole restaurant had been infected by bathroom tiling and I felt like I was sitting in a bowl.Tiling overdose aside, what matters is the service and the food. After being told on Monday that there were no tables available, and we would be wait listed, D was then told yesterday that a 7pm slot was free.

When we arrived, we were ushered upstairs, only to be greeted by the manager who demanded if we had a reservation (hmm obviously we had one otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten as far as upstairs) and then, we were told to go back downstairs as we were early (it was 7.01pm) and wait as they were still having their staff training! I understand staff training is important, but don’t open the restaurant at 7pm if you’re not going to be ready, and definitely don’t have your staff meeting AT 7!

As we waited at the bar, more people arrived and soon there was a cluster of “7pm people” waiting at the foot of the stairs. We perused the bar menu and I spied my favourite pizza- the Capricciosa, so D and I decided we would order that as one of our mains.

When we finally sat down upstairs (ambience was quite lovely, still had that bathroom feel to it!), we realised the restaurant was pretty empty, even with all the other diners. Tables all fully booked and suddenly one free at 7pm? Lies!!

Back to food; we had heard mixed reviews, especially about their pastas but their starters have gotten a big thumbs up from our friends. D and I decided to share the “Pomodori Uovo”- poached japanese egg, pecorino romano and garlic fett’unta (lightly greased sliced of bread) and ‘nduja (soft, spicy hot spreadable salami, mostly produced in Calabria). It was quite a hefty portion and the chef was a bit heavy handed with the tomatoes and salt, but overall, it was good. I loved the ‘nduja and the runny egg, and it was deeply satisfying heaping a spoonful onto my “fett’unta”.For mains, I tried to order the Capricciosa pizza, which wasn’t on the restaurant menu (the pizza selection on the main menu has fewer selections than the bar menu), but the manager informed me that they could only make it for those eating at the bar and they couldn’t make it for those eating in the restaurant. I thought this was ridiculous and completely illogical. If you can make it for downstairs, why can’t you make it for upstairs?! Slightly incensed by this, I ordered, with a huff, the Prosiutto e rucola pizza which, by mine and D’s calculations, had more ingredients and therefore, would be more worth our money. It was also the only pizza that had parma ham.The pizza base was chewy and cheesey and there was a generous topping of parma ham and half a forest of rocket. After consuming most of the crisp bread that came at the start and the fett’unta, I had gone into a carb coma and couldn’t eat the crust.We also ordered the Fazzoletti “Bolognese Blanco”, a braised rabbit, pancetta and mushroom pasta in a cream sauce with a horseradish gremolata (a chopped herb condiment consisting of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest). Despite friends saying that their pastas were drab, I must admit, this pasta was good, good creamy consistency, the rabbit was tender and the horseradish gremolata offset the saltiness of the pancetta well. We did, however, object to the pieces of celery that peppered the dish. While the purpose of the celery is to lighten the pasta and add a more refreshing taste, many people, D included, are not keen on seeing or eating visible slices of celery, so it would have been better to finely chop the celery and incorporate it into the sauce.A typical selection of Italian desserts awaited us and we opted for the vanilla panna cotta with peach “cobbler” and extra vecchio balsamico. This was very disappointing. The panna cotta itself was neither rich nor sweet enough and fell flat with no balance from the peach cobbler which did nothing except merely tickle the palate, rather than add a pleasant sour zing to the creaminess of the panna cotta. I also couldn’t taste the vanilla. The balsamic vinegar was an unnecessary and poor compliment to this pudding let-down.

Sad and unsatisfied, we ended with pots of fresh mint tea, but mine was more like mint water as I had a paltry 3 mint leaves to D’s 6 in hers.

Will I be returning? Not any time soon! You will see me instead at Pizza Express noshing on some dough balls.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

208 Duocento Otto, 208 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan. Tel: 2549 0208.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$    Dinner was very expensive at $370 per person, for one main and one starter/dessert each, without any drinks except our mint tea at the end!